Many vegans think their diet is healthier than eating meat, but Dr. Zac Turner says there’s a big flaw in the way some vegans eat.
Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zac talks about vegan alternatives.
Question: Hello Dr Zac, What do you think of vegan alternatives? I bet my vegan daughter that the fake meat she eats is way worse for her than real chicken, beef, or lamb. real meat is natural, and from what I understand these fake meats are transformed shit.
And the same goes for the vegan cheeses, ice creams, meat pies and all the other crap these greenies claim to enjoy – where the real thing is just as unhealthy for you.
What’s your verdict, doctor? – Gareth, Queensland
To respond: “…where the real thing is just as unhealthy for you”, I think you put it there perfectly, Gareth. I couldn’t be happier that more and more people are adopting vegan practices in their diets, however, I don’t encourage people who think their vegan alternative is completely healthy just because it’s plant-based .
Think about it the next time you’re in the supermarket aisle holding a vegan alternative in your hand. Is the version with animal products considered unhealthy? Yes? So the vegan alternative you’re holding probably is too.
It may sound silly to think that vegan alternatives have to be healthy, but studies have indicated that 90% of participants believe vegan alternatives are always the healthiest option for themselves and the environment. I explained in my previous column on alternative milks why this may not be the case for our environment, which is the same as your own health environment, your body.
I will preface before going any further that I strongly recommend that everyone adopt more plant-based practices in their diet. I myself will try to have three vegetable days a week, where I aim to eat natural, local, seasonal and if possible unprocessed ingredients.
It might look like avocado toast for breakfast, carrots and celery with nuts for snacks, salad for lunch, and roasted vegetables with lentils for dinner. I tend to steer clear of vegan alternatives that have become a fad and embrace classic vegan practices.
Let’s go through your list of offenders and see if they really are guilty of evil crimes.
Vegan meat or “fake meat”
Not all alternative meats are unhealthy for you, but you still need to be careful. Studies have shown that imitation meats are an excellent source of fibre, folate and iron and contain less saturated fat. They may, however, tend to have lower protein, zinc, B12 and high salt levels. The trick is to read the ingredient list and the nutrition facts table. If it looks unhealthy and contains chemicals that don’t sound healthy, it’s probably bad for you.
Vegan meat pies
Treated = treated. It’s that simple. Just because it doesn’t contain animal products doesn’t mean it’s magically healthy for you. This goes for vegan meat pies, sausage rolls, chicken nuggets and other junk food slapped with the green vegan sticker. Always guilty in my books – be better! You deserve it.
Just like the real stuff, moderation is key. Vegan cheeses are typically made from nuts, soy, seeds, and root vegetables. Although they come from wholesome ingredients, I would put vegan cheeses in the junk-vegan category.
When deciding on your vegan choices, you should avoid oils, fillers, gums, and high levels of sodium. It’s the pesky ingredients that do more harm than good.
Perhaps the worst offender of all. It really shouldn’t be such a news flash, but ice cream, whether it contains animal products or not, is always loaded with sugar.
Something I always tell my patients who ask questions about veganism is that they need to recognize that sugar is plant-based. Don’t think for a second that the vegan ice cream you’re eating is healthy enough to be a regular addition to your diet.
Gareth, I recommend you pick up a raw vegan cookbook and try out some recipes with your daughter. Let her experiment with her diet (in a healthy way) and participate! We can all benefit from including real vegan foods in our diets.
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Dr. Zac Turner holds a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a doctor and co-owner of a telehealth service, Concierge doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist in addition to being a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering.